Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Loving the Veggies

Strangely, this photo doesn't do the harvest justice. It seemed like an awful lot this morning though. Lots more zuchini and green beens, cucumbers and beets. I also picked the first of 3 cabbages. It got pretty eaten by the worms, but will still be yummy.
I also dug up 2 hills of potatoes. These are the potatoes I didn't plant this year. I planted some potatoes last year and got virtually nothing from them. Apparently I missed a few and have had 6 hills pop up. When I went out this morning, 2 of the hills were dying back so I thought now would be as good a time as any.
There are lots of little ones, but also some decent sized potates. I think they liked all the rain we had this year. I dug around like a crazy woman trying to make sure I got all of them. As much as I like having volunteer potatoes, I really like having them where I want them. These are a russet variety, but I think next year I'll plant a red skinned or more all purpose variety. I can't wait to dig up the other hills!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Drying zucchini

Its that time of year when I'm buried in zucchini. After making zucchini pancankes, grilled zucchini and zucchini bread several times. Then taking it everywhere I went as a gift, I was still left with all of this and much more to come. So I decided to dehydrate a bunch of it.
First, I got out my handy dandy plastic mandolin. I've had this for years and paid about 5 dollars for it. Nifty huh?
So I started slicing my zucchini on it. I was getting a nice 1/8 inch slice. Then all of a sudden, I was getting big, fat, irregular shapes. It had broken. The piece that holds the slicer in place snapped off. It figures it breaks when I'm trying to do a blog post. I knew its life span was only so long. Plastic isn't really known for its durability in things like this.
Thankfully, I am pretty good with a knife. I kept going slicing things up as evenly as I could.
I layed them out in a single layer on my dehydrator sheets. I was able to fit the 2 largest and 1 smaller zucchini on the trays. I think another few rounds will have to happen.
Filled up the dehydrator and set it on 125 degrees. I have an Excalibur dehydrator with 5 trays. It was a birthday present from hubby a few years ago. He's great at getting me things I mention would be nice, but would probably never buy for myself. Its great becuase it has a temperature gauge and a fan. I do all kinds of things in it like veggies, fruits and fruit leathers. I have yet to try jerky, but may someday. I like that it has nice low settings. My oven doesn't go low enough to dry things without really cooking them and possible burning them.
After 12 hours, they dry up to practically nothing.
I stuffed them into canning jars and put them in the basement. If I had a vacuum sealer, that would be even better for keeping them long term, but I don't. Maybe I should mention that to hubby? Nah... I already have too many gadgets.

These are great for throwing into soups and things. They actually rehydrate rather nicely. I hate frozen zucchini slices, they get soggy and the skin gets tough. The only way to freeze them is shredded in my opinion. I like that they store on the shelf without any further use of energy.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A stroll around the yard

Daylilies reaching for the sun.
A peach tree growing stronger.
Sage with purple flowers.
A Japanese Maple looking beautiful.
Carrots in bloom.
A blueberry bush enjoying the shade.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Relaxing Summer?

I always anxiously await the relaxing days of summer. Then I don't relax. Why is it that I don't remember this from year to year? I feel like I run from one task to another. The only times I relax are when I take the kids off for play dates.

This week the kids have had VBS in the mornings. I found myself running around like a nut doing things that are easier done without children. Most importantly, buying presents for Noah's 8th birthday next week.

Today consisted of pulling weeds, picking veggies, freezing veggies, mowing the lawn and attempting to clean and organize my house. I can't seem to sit still for very long. Every time I sit down something else catches my eye, or crosses my mind that has to be done that very second. As I sit here trying to organize my thoughts, I realize that I really need to clean off the sideboard in my kitchen that seems to collect stuff. Off to do that!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Harvest is getting bigger

This is today's harvest from my little patch. I love when it starts coming on fast and furious. Well... I should say I love it until about August, when I'm knee deep in tomatoes. We've been eating lots of zuchini, sugar snap peas and lettuce. Now we're onto the green beans, beets and cucumbers. Soon will be tomatillos, peppers and tomatoes.

Tonights dinner will be pork chops with cucumber salad and beets. The zucchini was shredded and frozen. The peas and beans were frozen as well. There are tons more behind all of them. It will all taste so good this winter.

By the way, does anyone have a solution for freezing that doesn't involve plastic bags? We like some things much better frozen, than canned, but I hate using all those bags. They get reused, but still...

After I harvested the beets, I pulled the remainder of the broccoli plants. They had reached the end of life. I went on to plant the starts of broccoli and cabbage that I had started on my deck a few weeks ago. Next I planted beets, romaine lettuce and chard in the new area where my cold frames will go. I can't wait to see how everything does in my fall garden. I've never done so many things for fall. This is also the first year we'll have fully planted cold frames. There is a second frame to plant, but that will be planted with mache and something else to be determined later. Since we're getting rain for the next few days, everything should do very well.

Is anyone else planting fall crops?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Delicious Shades of Green Sunday Stroll

Pumpkins starting to take shape.
Tomatoes soaking in the sun.
Tomatillos ready for the party.
Cabbage cool and crisp.
Cucumbers hanging out.
Onions ready for dinner.

Check out who else is strolling today. http://quietcountryhouse.blogspot.com/

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Not bad for a day's work

Morgan(also referred to as Pooh Bear and the Little Princess) and I had a busy day. We had picked 3 gallons of blueberries at a friend's house the other day. Then we found a great deal on cherries and organic nectarines. So, we decided to make some jam. Here is Morgan chopping up cherries with her trusty butter knife. She felt like such a big girl helping with the chopping.
She carefully measures how much fruit we have. The older she gets, the happier I am that I have such a great helper. She is always so eager to help with anything I'm doing.
The end result was 7 jars of cherry blueberry jam, 7 jars of nectarine jam and 7 jars of blueberry. There was a little bit left from each batch that I put into little bowls for tasting. They were proclaimed delicious by all. You can also see today's harvest of zucchini on the side there and some extra nectarines for later.
Next was the chicken stock that I made up earlier in the week. It looks a little cloudy in the picture, but is actually the hard water leaving deposits on my jars. Chicken stock is one of those things I love to make and have. It always seems like magic to make something so wonderful from things that most people throw away. I use the carcasses from birds we've eaten and the pieces of onions, carrot peels and odd pieces of celery that I've thrown in the freezer. Throw it all in the crockpot with some water to cover and go to bed. You wake up to delicious smelling and perfectly cooked stock. It's one of the few things I like my crockpot for.
Lastly was the bread. I started this yesterday using a recipe I found for soaked grains. I halved the recipe since that much flour would kill my mixer. This is the second time I have made it. Hubby even liked it and he is a die hard white bread fan. I think it will taste wonderful with all that great jam we made.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Loving the Outdoors

As you can see the ladies are getting bigger still. They are starting to really look like hens now. We still don't know if we have any boys mixed in, but are thinking we might have all girls. This week J's son A is taking care of them by himself for a Boy Scout badge. He's a very good chicken keeper. I think we'll have to keep him. It feels very odd not to be doing anything for them, but it is rather nice as well.
I thought I'd show you the back of our tractor. These are the nesting boxes on the back. The top lifts up so that we can gather eggs when they start laying. You might notice that J has put fancy roofing shingles on their home as well. Nothing but the best for our girls.

I just finished up teaching my canning classes on jam this week. Everyone loved the chickens. There were even a few who were asking questions about how they could do this. Its so very easy, I think every yard should have some chickens. I know a great tractor builder as well!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Enjoying the summer

This has been an odd summer, weather wise. April and May were warmer than normal. The garden did very well. Then June came along. The entire month was one long, cool rain storm. Now it is July. The sun has come out and it certainly feels more like summer, but is not nearly as hot as normal. I have to say that I really like the weather, but some of my garden plants aren't very happy. The days are in the 70's and low 80's. The nights are in the 50's and we had a few nights in the 40's last week.

The cool weather crops are still doing well. Normally, the peas and lettuce would have been ripped out by now. Normally, I'd be looking at tomatoes getting ready to ripen and peppers starting to look good as well. This year the peas and lettuce are still going strong. The broccoli and cabbage are happy. The tomatoes are small and looking like it will be a very long time until harvest. The peppers are completely non-existent. There are a few flowers, but no real fruit.

One thing I have noticed is the lack of squash vine borers this year. They usually lay their eggs in June. By July, I have dying plants. In order to get around the SVBs, I plant a second crop of zucchini a month after the first. They are all still healthy. As a result, I'm swimming in zucchini right now. We have it every day. So far it isn't so bad, but I can foresee zucchini fatigue setting in soon.

Right now, I just want the tomatoes! They are the reason I started to garden in the first place. There is truly no substitute for a homegrown tomato. I'll continue to drool in anticipation and hope for some heat for the garden.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What a Crock

These were sitting on my front steps today. Carefully wrapped in bubble wrap that I'll try to find another use for. I am so excited to start fermenting pickles of all types, kim chi, saurkraut and lots of other things I'll find.
They're so big! I got the 2 gallon size so that I could grow into them, so to speak. They look like they'll also be good for rising dough. Right now I'm just going to look longingly at them and make lists of what to make in them.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

MInt Jelly!

I love mint. It doesn't grow well in my yard, but it does well in my neighbor's yard. They don't like to eat it, but said I could take what I wanted. Thus, we now have mint jelly.
I washed and roughly chopped the mint. Then added hot water and let it steep for 20 minutes. The rest was just like any other jelly.
I could have added green food coloring, but I opted not to. This will be so yummy with our lamb. Yum!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Canning Class Triple Berry Jam!

Today was the first of 3 classes I'm doing on water bath canning. I decided to do jam with pectin as I felt it was the easiest thing to master.
Today we used Ball's pectin, but I'm looking forward to trying the Pomona Universal Pectin that I just got.
With all the rain and cool weather here in New England, we seem to be in between berry seasons. I ended up going to Costco and we made blueberry, raspberry, blackberry jam. This picture shows the crushed fruit being heated with the pectin.
This is the jam with the sugar now added at a full rolling boil.
Next into the jars

Then into the canner
Aren't they pretty?
Here are my happy class members. K is my photographer today, so we can't see her. The class went well. I have lots of requests for further classes and judging from this one, I will certainly do them. The jam was yummy too.

The recipe I used was

2 cups blueberries crushed
1 1/2 cups raspberries crushed
1 1/2 cups blackberries crushed
7 cups sugar
1 package Ball pectin

Bring the berries and pectin to a rolling boil. You will not be able to stir down the boiling for this. Add the sugar all at once and bring back up to a rolling boil. When it is boiling let it boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Place in hot, sterilized jars and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

This made about 10 cups of jam.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mulch is a girl's best friend

Yesterday was a great day. The sun was shining. It was warm without being too hot. The kind of weather I could happily have all year long. After our long, wet, cold June, it was just what the doctor ordered. I happily set out to the farm supply store in town and got my fertilizer and straw. I use an organic fertilizer called Plant Tone. I wish I could create enough compost, but seem to fall short each year. This has worked well for me.
Straw was the next thing to go down. Straw serves multiple purposes. It is a mulch, so it suppresses weeds, keeps in moisture and as it breaks down, even adds a small amount of nutrients to the soil. The other thing it does, especially with tomatoes, is to prevent splash up from the soil. Since most problems in tomatoes are a result of this splash up, the straw is a very good thing.

It always amazes me how fast straw breaks down. It goes on looking so thick, but by the end of summer is almost completely incorporated into the soil. By next Spring, it will be little more than a memory. It also works well as the brown material to balance all that green in the compost pile. What else can reduce the amount of work you do in the garden for only $8 or so?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Clothelines, the good the bad and the ugly

I love my clothesline. The clothes and towels smell so good after their day in the sun. It cuts my electric bill significantly. It makes me feel like a good green and yet old-fashioned woman.

Then on the Fourth of July, my 4 year old daughter Pooh Bear decided to climb my wonderful clothesline. When she slid down, she caught her leg on the bolt for the support piece. After a visit to the ER and 5 stitches, she thought it might be better to avoid the clothesline for now. So, although I love my clothesline, I am now irrationally aggravated with it as well.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The sun is shining and things are ripening.

We got back from vacation and found lots of things happening in the garden. The peas are really taking off. I just picked a quart and then planted some more for later in the summer.
The first planting of zucchini is doing beautifully. I picked one and have 6 more that will be ready in the next day or two.
Just when I thought the broccoli was never going to head... Isn't is beautiful? I just put 2 quarts in the freezer with lots for us to eat fresh.
The tomatillos are looking good too.
Just for something different, here is a Lilly.
Lastly, the flowers from my dogwood trees are beautiful.